Hacks Hackers


The moment when the penny drops to embrace the failure of any control over the Frankenstein black box you have created. The “Napster Moment” (this widely used coinage needs a Wiki entry).

I was treated to a nostalgic and somewhat gripping tale of an early ‘Napster Moment’ in the digital annals involving the Church of Scientology (COS) and the Usenet group alt.religion.scientology last night. Long time friend and veritable doyenne of the UK Skeptical movement (founder of The Skeptic magazine and host of the first Sceptic Meetup), Wendy Grossman, keynoted the Hacks/Hackersevent at the Shooting Star pub. She took the assembled word and code crunchers through the seminal tug-of-war back in the nineties when people on Usenet sought to expose certain information about the COS. And the COS worked ardently to contain it. The unfolding duel demonstrated classic thrust and parry of two sides exploiting technology. The moral of the story is that ‘control typically loses on the Internet’ (though not necessarily anonymity).

This moral has hit everyone from the recording industry (from which the term derives) to ‘Arab Spring’ governments. I think that some backwards thinking businesses are facing their own Napster Moment when it comes to employee Internet access and social media engagement (they try to stanch it with confining policies, but people either find workarounds or just pull out their iPhone).

I had the long overdue opportunity to catch up with Wendy after the event and chat about scepticism, complex systems, singularity and host of other topic just perfect over a beer and tea. Check out her website and The Skeptic magazine.